Two highly competitive coaches met in the same room in Orlando on the morning of New Year’s Eve for their Citrus Bowl joint press conference.
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Alabama’s Nick Saban exchanged more than a handful of positive comments about one another and their program.
Harbaugh noted how well coached of a team ‘Bama is, and how the team doens’t have a weakness. “He’s got a lot of great things to talk about schematically, and players. Offense that is built for speed and attacks every part of the field in the passing game, in the running game. Physical, physical football team,” Harbaugh said. “Defensively, really the same thing. Very attacking, multiple in coverages and the special teams is really dangerous, especially in the return game. The punt return, kickoff return, in all facets, everything is tight, everything is battened down and there are no weaknesses.”
Saban feels Michigan has a lot of good coaches, too, and can do a variety of things to beat you on offense and defense. “They’re a very well-coached team in every phase of the game,” Saban said about Michigan. “On defense, they do a lot of movement, they’ve got a lot of quickness, they’re very aggressive, a lot of multiples in what you see and how it challenges your offensive line. On offense, they have a lot of the multiples that a lot of college teams have now in terms of how they attack the entire field. They’ve got great balance on offense and they’re very physical on special teams and do a very good job in that area of the game as well. I see a team that’s very strong in every area, but I think the No. 1 thing is they play with great intangibles and they’re very well-coached.”
A reporter asked both coaches if they were able to spend an hour together one on one what they would ask each other.
Harbaugh’s answer was short and sweet. “That’d be a real treat. There’s really nobody better. Got tremendous respect for Coach Saban,” Harbaugh said.
Saban hit on how he’s known Jim’s father, Jack Harbaugh, since the 70’s, along with Jim’s brother in-law, Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean. ”I’ve always had a tremendous respect for Jim and his family as coaches. His dad Jack kinda came up with me, I was a little younger, he was one of the most respected secondary coaches. I used to try and visit with him as much as I could and had a tremendous amount of respect for him. Tom Crean, who is his brother-in-law was an assistant basketball coach at Michigan State for Tom Izzo, so we’ve had a tremendous amount of respect for the family as coaches.”
Saban is always wanting to gain more insight, and he would bite at the opportunity to talk X’s and O’s with Harbaugh. “I never, ever stopped trying to learn. And I would certainly cherish and have tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to sit down with Jim and talk about how he does things and how that can improve our organization.”
As the two men left the podium, they exchanged a few more words privately, patted one another on the back, and went about their last full day of preparation for their tilt on New Year’s Day. Years continue to fly by, and within them college football fans have wanted to see a Harbaugh vs. Saban matchup. And that’s precisely what they’ll get on the first day of 2020.